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Dorrough on Delano

We are not striving to save Delano merely for a utilitarian purpose.

The Broadcast Board of Governors response (Reader’s Forum, Dec. 17) to your VOA story and my letter to Delano’s mayor is a good opportunity to amplify several important points.

On a positive note, we may have hit a nerve and possibly prevented an immediate frontal assault on Delano. In Letitia King’s admirable zeal to defend the continued capacity of the VOA, she reveals a certain institutional disregard for shortwave, and more disturbing, a plan to remove the legendary Delano transmitters. As the mad surgeon said to the patient, “We’re going to remove your heart but it won’t hurt a bit!”

Describing the flagship facility as “part of a network” of many transmitting facilities is like calling the aircraft carrier Enterprise one of many boats. Delano is the biggest and sole remaining example of the classic, audacious, “price is no object” VOA template. Delano was conceived as a broadcast cathedral through collaboration between government and the Columbia Broadcasting System, with unmatched industrial and architectural design teams. The radio community considers the building and antenna structures akin to a broadcast version of a Frank Lloyd Wright project.

We are not striving to save Delano merely for a utilitarian purpose. It is a community and national historical asset with a capacity to serve several practical and even profitable purposes, not to mention being a strategic EMP-proof communications powerhouse.

Ms. King also made this statement: “Some of the Delano transmitters will be moved to broadcast facilities in the Philippines to improve our reach to critical audiences.”

Once those wonderful transmitters are cut loose they can just as easily wind up at a scrap yard as in the “Philippines.” Is it rational to think that ripping out and then shipping those behemoths halfway around the world is more cost effective than buying new transmitters specifically for the Philippines?

We also know that once the classic transmitters are gone, there is no going back. A vintage car goes into the crusher only after the engine has been removed. This is the pattern we saw at Bethany, Ohio: a death by attrition and a thousand cuts. As with its sister facility, when a bit of neglect creeps in, the towers suddenly will be declared a public nuisance and the ugly pattern of Bethany and Radio Liberty (literally blown up after the VOA took it over) will be repeated.

The magnificent Crosley-designed Bethany facility has been thoughtlessly gutted and, without its towers, is as tragic as an eviscerated Elk carcass with its antlers brutally hacked off. That tragedy is akin to the shortsighted destruction of New York’s classically designed Pennsylvania Station. The loss of that magnificent landmark raised enough public outrage that her sister Grand Central Station was not only saved but restored. The parallel to the Bethany/Delano situation should be obvious.

Landmark/historical status seems the only solution to stop a slow and painful death at Delano. Thanks to Ms. King for helping us to bring this important issue into the light of a public forum.

Mike Dorrough
Woodland Hills, Calif.